English grammar help: how to use articles

Articles are something that are very important to the English language, but for some reason many students do not use them when they are speaking. In this post I want to stress the importance of articles, as native speakers are very quick to identify that a sentence was said incorrectly because an article was not used.

So first, let’s discuss what an article is. The English language has three articles, ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’. Each of these articles is used before a noun.

a/an

These articles are known as the ‘indefinite articles’ because they do not specify which noun you are talking about. For example, ‘a table’ could be any table, or you may want to eat ‘an apple’ without choosing a specific one. The way to know which article to use is if the noun starts with a vowel (the letters ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ or ‘u’) it will use ‘an’. If it starts with any consonant however, then you will use ‘a’.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to the rule of always using ‘a’ before consonants and ‘an’ before vowels. If your noun starts with ‘u’ but makes the sound of ‘you’ then you will use ‘a.’ For example, “I went to a university”. Also, if your noun starts with a silent ‘h’ then you will use ‘an.’ For example, “we have an hour before the movie starts”.

The

This is ‘definite article’. When you use this article, it means that you are talking about something very specific. For example, if “I bought the table” then I am talking about a very specific table that I bought.

Articles are used before a noun but it is important to know when to use them and when not to use them.

You don’t use an article:

• Before a proper name such as Queen Elizabeth, Steve Jobs or John Smith.
• Names of most countries such as Italy, Brazil or Saudi Arabia.
• Sports such as basketball, football or soccer
• Languages such as English, Spanish or Portuguese
• Academic subjects such as Mathematics, English or Literature.

Always use articles before:

• Names of rivers, seas, oceans such as, the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea and the Missouri River.
• Deserts, gulfs, forests or peninsulas such as the Amazon, the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Mexico.
• Jobs such as an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer.

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